Music and the Internet have a complicated relationship plagued by legal quagmires, but for TonePedia.com founders and longtime friends Danny Strelitz and Sagi Eiland, the combination is fertile ground for untapped possibilities.
"Musicians tend to be old-fashioned people who don't accept new technologies easily, so the on-line market for musicians is just getting started," says Eiland with a charming grin. "We're always a little bit behind."
As a guitar player, singer and songwriter who formerly played in the band Tnuat Hameri, regularly performs at the Cameri Theater in The Wandering Israeli and one of the first musicians to play at Tel Aviv's Barby club in the early 1990s and later sign a record deal with its label, he should know. Indeed, with his shaggy brown hair and retro green T-shirt, this musician-cum-entrepreneur looks like a rock star straight out of the 1970s.
And it was Eiland's passion for vintage gear that is made of higher-quality wood and has superior sound that originally gave Strelitz the idea for their newly launched start-up. "I was always searching for new stuff on-line and I kept a wish list on eBay," explains Eiland. "One day Danny asked me why a Web site didn't exist that would allow musicians to hear the gear and combinations of gear before they buy it."
The idea seemed like a good one, and they were surprised that nothing of the kind already existed despite numerous Web sites dedicated to reviewing music gear. After all, a picture of a particular guitar, amplifier or speaker may be worth a thousand words, but it certainly cannot compete with hearing its actual sound - especially when the combinations of gear produce an enormous range of different tones.
But the path from idea to product was a long one. The pair came up with the concept two years ago, but Tonepedia launched just six months ago.
STRELITZ'S BACKGROUND is in cognitive psychology with a focus on human-computer interaction and man-machine interface, and he previously worked with several start-up companies. But neither of the two founders has a strong technical or business background, which made things slightly more challenging as it required them to hire programmers to execute their vision.
Eiland came up with the name (the Wikipedia of tone) while Sterlitz created the design and perfected the user interface, which provides quite a few handy features.
"The idea with TonePedia is to create a social community where people who are passionate about music can share information, upload images and recordings and find all the information they need about specific gear, including hearing the way it sounds," explains Strelitz. "That doesn't exist anywhere else on-line today."
Because success relies almost entirely on having an active community of users who upload sound files and interact, Tonepedia still has a long way to go before it will be able to generate revenue, for which future plans include selling gear. For now, Strelitz is content to provide real value to users by creating an information database that will revolutionize the way musicians search and buy gear on-line.
"I spent the last year walking around Tel Aviv with a tape recorder and a camera interviewing friends and fellow musicians to sign real people up for the site," says Eiland. "We didn't want to launch with a bunch of fake users like a lot of other Web sites do."
Although some of the musicians with user profiles have been dead for more than 30 years, such as Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band, you can hear the unique combination of instruments they were using in some of their more famous songs. For musicians - especially those who love old gear - this is fantastic.
"So far we've gotten amazing responses from people who really like the idea and our community is growing every day," says Strelitz. Although they would not disclose the actual number of users, the pair will say they have almost 1,500 followers on Twitter, and some well-known musicians like Dan Whitley of the Dan Whitley Band are registered users.
"We haven't been able to raise any money yet because it's hard to convince people that the community will succeed, and investors are leery of anything to do with the music business on-line because of all the legal issues," says Strelitz. "So far, we've put a lot of sweat and money into it, but we're hoping to raise money in the future because as soon as our community takes off, there are many different ways to monetize the traffic."
AND ALTHOUGH musicians often hate the very idea of Guitar Hero, as one of the most successful games ever made, it is certainly garnering huge interest in guitars and playing music - especially with youth.
"I saw a musician the other day wearing a T-shirt that said 'f**k Guitar Hero. I play the real thing,'" Eiland says, noting the palpable tension that exists between the two worlds. Yet, he admits that the game has certainly gotten a lot of kids to actually learn how to play the real thing and raised demand for information on-line about gear.
Although TonePedia is still in its infancy and it remains to be seen whether or not its social community will actually flourish, the potential user base is quite large and it has focus and innovation on its side. The musical instrument business is about $12 billion a year and according to mibluebook.com, there are more than 100 musical instruments for sale on eBay every day, so a Web site with relevant information and good recordings has a great potential niche.
While there is no doubt that the idea behind TonePedia is stellar, a long road to success still stretches before it. "It takes a lot of strength to be an entrepreneur," says Strelitz. "We have a lot of persistence and willpower and we strongly believe in what we're doing. We're determined."